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Behind Vermont's closed doors ...

The legislature takes the marriage issue where the courts left off

When the Vermont supreme court ordered the state legislature to provide all the legal benefits to same-sex couples that accrue to married opposite-sex couples, conventional political wisdom was that lawmakers would quickly opt for a domestic-partnership plan and avoid the more controversial question of gay marriage. But the rush to domestic partnership has rapidly slowed. In a January 4 open letter to all 179 of his colleagues, Democratic state senator Jeb Spaulding, the powerful chairman of the appropriations committee, declared, "I can't in good conscience just go with the flow and keep quiet on such a basic human fairness issue. It seems ludicrous to me to have the exact same listing of rights and benefits for same-sex and heterosexual couples but have different names for the commitment process."

Other legislators were not convinced. "My constituents would have trouble accepting gay marriage," responded Rep. Michael Flaherty, a Democrat and a leader of a group of house moderates. Added Rep. Michael Vinton: "We can't get it through the building."

Perhaps not, but at least it will get an airing. Whatever the outcome of the debate, legislation is unlikely to reach the governor's desk any time soon. State GOP leaders say that if a compromise can't be hammered out by the end of the legislative session in April, the issue could be put off indefinitely. (The supreme court did not set a deadline for enactment of the benefits.)

"We know our opponents want to delay, and at least some of them want to do so to give the extremist right wing time to move their machinery into Vermont," said Mary Bonauto, civil rights director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a Boston-based legal group that is helping to represent the three same-sex couples who sued the state for marriage rights. "But justice delayed is justice denied, and every day this lingers is a day our clients and all lesbian and gay Vermonters remain vulnerable under the law."
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Title Annotation:same-sex marriage legislation stalls
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U1VT
Date:Feb 15, 2000
Previous Article:Civil rights, legislative wrongs.
Next Article:Case closes in soldier's murder.

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